Greetings from poolside at the Hotel Santa Clara in Cartagena, Colombia. And when I say poolside, I am in fact about 15 yards from the water. But this is a redhead poolside, so that means I'm actually in my air conditioned room, in the shade, protected from that mean old sun. I'm here in this hotel in Cartagena, a walled city (at least, the old city) on the sea, for the Hay Festival.
This is to present The End of Night, which has been translated into Spanish as "El Fin de la Oscuridad," or The End of Darkness. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been invited by the Hay this year to their Festival in Mexico in October, and now to Colombia. The chance to meet writers from Europe and South America has been something I'll never forget. Just yesterday at lunch I talked for an hour with Laurent Binet, a French writer whose novel HHhH has been a massive success worldwide, translated into 30 languages. I had never heard of him, nor of his book, but now he's a friend. And at my table of 12 were two of the most famous writers in Spain, one of the most famous writers from Greece, and others from Peru, Colombia, Mexico. It's very humbling to be included.
And to be included, to be recognized and valued for my writing--for literature--is an amazing feeling. In the US, we live obsessed with celebrity, especially from TV and movies. It may be what I expected to find, but indeed I have found in Mexico and Colombia a respect for writers that I have not experienced in the US. It makes me want to learn Spanish, and to write my next book knowing that these people to whom literature means so much will be reading my work.
It's also been really interesting to meet world famous people and see how different they are. Most treat me with respect and interest, but a few seem a bit too important for that. I love the former way of being, of kindness. I hate arrogance. One of my favorite people so far has been Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Prize for her work banning land mines. She's funny, straightforward, swears a lot, has a bad back, and she's too important for no one. She is genuine. Other people, perhaps because they have never heard of you, aren't so down to earth.
What does it mean to be "down to earth"? That's something I'm wondering these days. I think it has to do with connection, with understanding we all walk the ground for a short time, we all meet the same end, and not thinking you're so different from others you meet. I've always loved that Beatles line from "Hey, Jude" that is, "Don't you know that it's a fool who plays it cool by making the world a little colder." Here in Cartagena, I'm surrounded by some of the most famous writers in the world. Some are playing it cool, but most I've met are not. Most are grounded, rooted, confident in their artistic career but also wanting to connect with other writers and lovers of literature, whomever they are. I know which way I want to be.